Tips for Building Strong Partnerships to Grow Your Business
Talking about a strategic partner network isn’t necessarily a new idea. It’s one I’ve been talking about for years. It’s not a terribly sexy idea for a lot of people but I want to try to at least convince you to up your thinking or change your thinking about the value of a strategic partner network. It’s one of the greatest ways to build referrals and be able to scale your business without the need to add overhead.
Building a strategic partner network allows you to collaborate with others to build your marketing and content assets.
There are a few elements that are involved with building a strategic partner network of best of class providers who can help you do more of what you do.
The first is developing a point of view that you’re not just going to go out and have a couple people who could send you leads. You need three types of partners: Strategic partners, implementation partners, and co-marketing partners.
There are three things marketing consultants typically need: a website, content to fill the website, and ways to attract people to the website, like SEO efforts.
If you have a small, lean organization, and don’t necessarily want to have a web designer or a staff of copywriters, but know that every single one of your clients is going to need those, then you need to build relationships in those three areas with people that you can count on to work as almost an employee, but as a contractor in most cases.
I’m talking about a very formal arrangement, where you actually train them, where you bring them into your planning process, and give them process documents so that they can actually work directly with your clients as part of your team.
In my case, with web design, that may have been an area that I stayed away from, but I realized that there’s a great opportunity there, because all of my clients need that. Developing relationships with strategic partners is almost like adding that service to your portfolio because you were able to develop a relationship with an entity or a person that could do that work for you.
Today, there are lots of organizations that like to partner that way, but there are also a lot of marketplaces that help you find people like that. Upwork, for example, is a great marketplace. Don’t think about it as, “Oh. I’m just going to hire this freelancer and have him do some work.” They’re an extension of your team.
You want to go into it with a set mentality about how you’re going to make that a branch of your organization and treat it as such. A lot of freelancers actually prefer that. They actually want to be taught how to get a great result with you.
In many cases, these are people that are not a part of your core service or your core offering, but they help you get work done. For example, we use an implementation partner for all of my accounting and bookkeeping. So, essentially it’s a virtual assistant organization that implements a component of my business.
They don’t become a part of our process. We actually become a part of theirs.
In a marketing consulting business, there’s a lot of implementation on behalf of our clients. You can choose to do that work, but quite frankly, that is the lower value work. I have virtual assistants or a virtual staff do those components for me.
Create an org chart, similar to what you might have if you worked in a 100 person organization (even a one-person organization needs an org chart), and that org chart should follow what all the functions in your business are.
What are all the things that you do? What are all the things that you should do? What are all the things, if you have team members, that you have certain team members doing?
Start thinking about where you could plug an implementation or a strategic partner in or how you could add things to the org chart, knowing that you could have a strategic partner that can now do tasks for you.
As farfetched as it sounds to have an org chart, it can be a pretty significant way for you to start saying, “Where can I delegate? How can I delegate? What’s the work I shouldn’t do, I can’t do, or somebody else could do better?”
That’s how you start building out this mentality of a strategic partner network.
You should be able to identify up to eight co-marketing partners. These are people that have your same ideal client as their ideal client but they’re not competitors. In fact, they provide a service that is very complementary to what you do or at the very least is something that you know that your clients are going to need.
For example, a marketing consultant, like me, might actually have clients that need some intellectual property attorney work, and so I might have an attorney that I would turn to. I certainly know folks that I work with that really could do a better job with their reporting and their financial accounting, and so I might have accountants as somebody that would also be looking at their clients and saying, “Boy. You need marketing help.”
Think about co-marketing partners that way.
How do you identify who should be on your team? Who else or what else does your customer need to solve all of their problems? Brainstorm all the gaps that your clients may have.
I believe people who are true connectors are trying to refer people. I think they understand that you build social currency by making referrals. If you think about that as a significant part of your business and who’s going to end up on your team, you want to ask yourself, “Would I be 100% sure that I would want to refer this person to my best client?”
How to find these partners
Start by sitting down and talking to your clients. Who else do they love? Who else are they referring? Who else do they think should be a strategic partner? If you go and ask your best clients these questions and you start hearing three or four names over and over again from them, then those people should be on your list. First off, somebody else has already recommended them, and secondly, you’ve got that shared connection already, so there’s a really good chance that you could have a conversation from that.
There are other places to look as well. You may know people in your networking groups already. You may know people by their reputation, or maybe you’ve worked with them in the past. These are all great ways to start your brainstorming.
Educating your team
You have to educate your team and teach them about your referral process. Teach them how to spot your ideal client and partner and make sure what they’re keeping their eye out for is specific, not just “they need X type of business.” They should know what makes them tick, and what pain points they need solved.
Know what makes you different
You have to be able to tell somebody, “Here’s how you would spot my ideal client. Here’s how to talk about our business in a way that presents how we’re different. Here are some of the things that an ideal client might actually say that if you hear them, you know that we’d be a great referral source.”
Define your referral process
If someone gives you a referral, you need to be very clear on what your process and next steps entail. Unfortunately, what a lot of people do is they just throw them in the hopper, make a phone call, send an email, or have them fill out a form. They’re all the same.
That’s a mistake because a referred lead is special. It comes with trust. It comes with expectations. You want to make sure that you treat a referred lead in a special way, but you also want to be able to communicate to your referral sources, “Here’s what we do. When you refer a business to us, we’re going to invite them to this evaluation session,” or, “We’re going to send them X information,” or, “We’re going to schedule an appointment to discover what their needs are.” You must not only have a referral process, you must be able to communicate what that process is.
Reaching out to partners
A lot of people just simply send out emails, or they meet somebody and say, “We ought to work together,” and it doesn’t really go any further than that.
You must make the perfect introduction. You need to create a letter that’s going to essentially say, “We believe we have clients who could use your services, and we’d love it if you would teach us the best way to refer you our clients. We have included a blank form that you could use to make it easy for you to teach us the best way to refer you, and we’ve, by the way, completed one of those forms, so that you know the best way to complete this form.”
Over the years I’ve had hundreds of businesses do this, and anecdotally, about 50% of the people immediately want to meet with me.
The key to this is that you have to have a planned way in which you’re going to activate these people. There are a couple of ways that I’ve seen people do this effectively. You need to start looking at ways that you can formulate this relationship and give them a reason to start doing something with you.
In thinking about your strategic network or thinking about the people you might invite to be a part of your platform, I want you to think hard about two partners who could be great co-marketers. These are people that you would feel great marketing their businesses to your customers on an active basis and vice versa. You want that to be a reciprocal arrangement.
Remember, the real reason to do this is that your customers will benefit. You’re going to bring them great answers, great value from the network partners that you’ve spent time getting to know, and vetting, and building relationships with.
Take everything I’m talking about today and start teaching it to your clients. This could be a great resource or a great perk that you can give them. I guarantee you that it’s going to ignite their fire to refer business back to you.
This process isn’t something that you can spend two minutes on and it’ll be done. Take each of these steps, break them down, and make it a goal for this quarter to get some part of this process started.
Even if you implement a fifth of what I just outlined today, I can guarantee you it will benefit your business.
If you liked this post, check out our Guide to Building a Small Business Marketing Consulting Practice.